Can US Succeed in Afghanistan?

The other question is, should we try at any cost?

Where Empires Go To Die

It is a favorite saying for those who can not see any way that US, its allies, and the new Afghan regime can  succeed there.  They point to history and show that whenever Afghanistan was invaded the invaders lost.  Well that’s very nice.  It is a testament to Afghan pride and military prowess that they fought off the invaders.  But the current situation is not exactly a repeat of British colonialism.  Nor is Afghanistan our new Vietnam.  Any and all comparisons are misleading as the current geopolitical situation is nothing like it was at the height of the Cold War.  Afghanistan has enough of its own current problems, we do not need to borrow from the 19th Century or from Southeast Asia.  Yes the lessons of history need to be learned, but history never repeats itself.  The US Army is not the Soviet Army, we are not there to control the Afghan people and its government.  But there seem to be no simple or easy answers in how to win in Afghanistan, nor what victory really means.

Throwing Troops at the Problem

From the beginning our mission in Afghanistan was doomed to fail.  It was based on wrong assumptions and wishful thinking.  Troop levels were ridiculously low, the amount of investment for rebuilding was not better, nor was the manpower provided.  Overtime as Afghanistan was failing we increased our troop levels, and improved on investment.  Now the ISAF commander wants 40,000 more troops.  The increased troop levels would at least temporarily increase security.  However that security will come at a price.  The price is not only financial, but more importantly American lives will be lost.  In order to cover more territory in Afghanistan the troops will be deployed in harm’s way.  Already we have seen a surge in American and NATO casualties in Afghanistan.  That is to be expected with the new strategy of getting out among the people, it will also continue, with yet another surge of casualties when as expected, more troop arrive.  Is America willing to pay the price for victory?

Now there is a section of America that says yes, its willing to shed blood of our soldiers in the name of victory.  But that mood is changing.  While Iraq was seen as the unnecessary war, Afghanistan was the good and quiet war.  Little casualties, little attention paid.  Now Afghanistan is finally moving to the front pages of America’s conscience, and  once again we find that less and less of Americans are supporting the war.  Just last year many supported a surge there because our policy was failing, now it seems that when our boys start coming home in body bags, the resolve is not there.  President Obama has two important jobs.  One is to figure out the correct strategy for Afghanistan and to give the tools and money necessary to do that job.  The other is  convince the American public that this is indeed a necessary war.  Afghanistan will become Obama’s war.  Any success or failure will be attributed to him.  People will forget that our troops, as few as there are, are fighting there for 8 years.  Because the new policy will be a major shift in our role there, and it will be on Obama.  And I am sure he realizes it.  I am also sure he realizes the difficulty he faces there.

Two Enemies

The US and allied forces are fighting not one but two enemies in Afghanistan.  They may be allied, but they have different aims and we must remember that.  Al Qaeda is a global Jihadist movement that will not stop until all are under the benevolent rule of Allah’s followers.  Its aims are not local, they couldn’t care less what happens in Afghanistan, but the Infidels are there so they’ll try to kill them.  Taliban on the other hand is local.  An invention of Pakistan’s security service, its aim is to rule in Afghanistan, and now in Pakistan.  They also recruit from the locals.  Whereas Bin Laden’s Jihadists are from all over the world.  We are fighting two different wars, we must not forget that.  We can win one and lose the other.  Neither will be easy.

Our aims against Al Qaeda are to prevent their capacity to launch terrorist attacks all over the world.  We can possibly achieve this without winning in Afghanistan (although a loss there will make it harder), we can cut off their financial and communication network, and our fight against them is not limited to Afghanistan.  Afghanistan, and Pakistan by extension, are just two fronts on the global war against Al Qaeda.  We  can do more with our policies here to stem the growth of global Jihad than we can with just bombing villages.

Against the Taliban however that policy must be reversed.  We must win on the ground.  We also must change our tactics.  Its great if we can spot and then bomb a couple of Taliban fighters in a village, but when we destroy a home, or god forbid kill innocent bystanders, we do more harm to our cause than good.  The survivors in that village will come to see us as faceless murderers of their children, and they will support the Taliban.  However if we move into that village, even after the Taliban fighter pull out, then we are seen a force that has a face, and we could possibly gain the locals’ support.  That however will mean putting our troops in harm’s way.  The only way to win in Afghanistan is to bring law and order to the country, its after all how the Taliban came to power.

Yes, we must take from our enemies’ handbook, and not be shy about it.  Right now much of Afghanistan is still a lawless country.  Private warlord militias roam the lands.  The government is utterly corrupt, from the ministerial level all the way down to the local officials, corruption is rampart.  Opium is as big a problem as corruption.  Yet the Afghan government is incapable or unwilling to deal with these problems.  The people of Afghanistan are used to a hard life, they will do without luxuries, but when they can not get necessities, or when they can not get anything done officially without bribing the local rulers, then they will turn to the ones who promise them law and order.  Namely the Taliban.  And it gets worse.  Not only is the government inept, its legitimacy also is questioned after the recent troublesome elections.  America and its Allies can not be seen supporting an illegitimate government.  Not only are we foreigners, but when foreigners support a bad illegitimate government they then go the way of the Red Army.

If we must prop up the Afgan government then we must insist that it changes for the better.  With more troops we will be in position to tell them to get rid of some of its worst warlords.  It might mean creating new enemies, but the people of Afghanistan will see this as a step forward.  The government must also curb its rampart corruption.  And actually start working for its people.  Opium trade must be supplemented by regular, non addictive, crops.  And that again, means making enemies of some of our Afghan “allies.”  With enough troops on the ground we can bring this under control, but only if the Afghan government will be willing to work towards the same end.  Finally we must do something about Afghanistan’s neighbor.


The war in Afghanistan can not be won if Pakistan is in a state of chaos and their government is threatened by the Taliban or by international Jihadists.  Pakistan created the Taliban.  Pakistan also does not have control over large parts of its territories.  The so called Tribal Areas are more restless then ever.  Attacks on government institutions happen with alarming frequency these days.  We must make a choice.  And its not an easy choice.  Either we let Pakistan fall where it may and risk having an enemy government next to Afghanistan, and with the control of nuclear weapons.  Or we support Pakistan’s current government knowing that they are not truly our allies and have done more harm than good to our efforts in the region.  Neither is an appealing proposition.  The govt of Pakistan on the other hand must be seen by its people that it stands alone and is not an agent of the Infidels from America.  They too, even if truly willing, have a difficult task.  Will another coup happen if the military feel that the current leaders are losing control?  Will it help or make matters worse?  The Pakistani people might not be inclined to accept yet another military govt.

Helping Pakistan will cost money more than lives.  President Obama has a dilemma there too.  He talked tough during the elections about possibly striking within Pakistan’s borders if he felt it would help in out fight against Al Qaeda.  But will such attacks help or hurt our cause overall, or the Pakistani govt which is fighting for legitimacy?  No easy answers.  Compared to this Iraq seems like a straight forward affair.  Pakistan has a choice to make, either it will fall to the extremists or it will make a stand and bring its lawless regions under govt control.  To do that however it might have to fight a bloody civil war, and its outcome would be uncertain.  An open war against extremism in Pakistan might actually create more terror outside of its borders.  Another possible, if perhaps only temporary, solution is to deal with these people.  Both inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Dealing With the Mullahs

Now many on the right will dismiss this notion out of hand, “we don’t deal with the terrorists.”  Well we do, so do our allies, all the time.  The above mentioned problems might mean a victory will be a long and very bloody affair, and by no means a certainty.  Perhaps talking with the Taliban (on both sides of the border) is not the worst possible solution for the two nations.  It would buy us and Pakistan time to stabilize both nations.  Its not a good solution, but it might be the least bad of all.  With it Afghanistan would be able to pick itself up, govt could become more stable, corruption could be dealt with, we could have time to peacefully improve the lives of ordinary Afghans, and the Taliban would stop being the only group that supports law and order.  The Afghans are tired of war and warlords, and corruption, they will turn to anyone that promises them that.  They do not hate nor love us.  They just want to be left alone to their daily lives.  A peace deal with the Taliban (presumably with some kind of power-sharing, but with their acceptance of US presence there) could provide that.

At the same time a peace deal by the Pakistani govt with the Taliban in its territory and its lawless tribes would provide the govt the stability its lacking today.  They would have time to decide what to do with its nuclear arsenal.  And could work on proper governance instead of just focusing on battling extremism.  They however would need to work much closer with the Afghan and US governments to do this.  History has proven that Pakistan working only for its short term gains is no good for anyone.  Either way, no easy answers, and no certain outcomes.

What is Victory?

What we must ask ourselves is that, is the price for victory, however we define it, worth it?  That is an another thing.  We have no definition of victory.  Yes we talk about defeating the extremists, but can we really?  As long as there are areas in Pakistan willing to provide them asylum we can not defeat them.  Total victory, as America knows it, is impossible in Afghanistan.  Its govt is weak and corrupt, and we have very little support from the people of Afghanistan.  Our troops can win the battles but we can still lose the war.  Winning battles with the best and most modern army in the world is simple.  Winning a war is difficult when you are fighting a guerrilla war.  Every time we win a battle we lose support at home, a democracy will not support a war its people do not understand.  its been 8 years since we went to Afghanistan, and there is no end in sight, in fact it seems further away than ever.  So the president must first convince the American people that it is indeed worth the effort and blood.  And he must tell us what is it that we are fighting for and what victory will look like.  It is no easy task.  With so many other problems we face in America, convincing the American public will be even more difficult.

It was the right war.  But is it still?  More questions, and no easy answers.  When we find them, we rarely like what we see.  Afghanistan is not our new Vietnam or an updated Soviet Union’s fight with the Mujaheddin.  But it can become that.  If we fail to make the right choices.  What those are I do not know, as I have stated, no easy answers, just difficult questions followed by more questions.  The slogan for this war is not “Yes we can,” instead its “Can we?


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I will need more time to digest this entire article. It is very long and touches many subjects. I read the first few paragraphs and did a quick scan of the rest, so I intend to be back to make another comment later. (It would help me if you linked yourself to your blog in comments. Much easier to find that way, and does generate “hits”.)

    Anyway, “Iraq was seen as the unnecessary war.” Seen by whom? All? Some? Democrats? Liberals? Moderates? Your statement at that point sounds almost all-inclusive. I’m sure you don’t mean it to be all-inclusive but that’s the flavor you gave to it. And the bumper sticker “Bush lied, Americans died” is a lie of 9.7 on the Richter scale, so that won’t work.

    As for the “where empires go to die” goes, that doesn’t fit either. I know that’s a big thing among many crowds, not all leftist, but definitely among the left in regards to our presence there. The US isn’t an empire, hasn’t been an empire in forever (that’s an exaggeration), has no plans on being an empire. As I noted (in snark format) in the commentary of a Head Noises article, and I forget which article, the US has conquered many countries and gained absolute military authority over many other countries in the past 70 years. Not one of them has been swallowed up by the US.

    In fact, when I was in high school and in a “current events” history class, advanced level course, we had a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago come talk to us. They did have an issue with the US in that the US seemed a bit like an older brother, all pushy and overbearing and stuff. But, like an older brother, they were very respectful of our intent to protect them and their autonomy. This was shortly after Grenada, where the US threw out the Cuban-Communist power that took over that tiny island country. And Trinidad and Tobago approved. But we don’t own Grenada today. ANYWAY… The guy said if a tiny country like Trinidad and Tobago was in serious economic and infrastructure dire straits, the best bet was to go to war with the US. Declare war, send a little ship into some American harbor, attack a military vessel, then immediately surrender as a country. The US would come in and rebuild the country and leave.

    This is something most liberals never understand. Conservatives do not want to build an empire. The US is the most powerful country the world has ever seen to this date and yet, no “hawk” wants to rule the world.

    Enough of that tangent.

    I fully agree, we cannot be seen as supporting a corrupt foreign government (fact-based snark: but we can support a corrupt US government). And it has been our policy to stay out of the way in Iraqi and Afghani elections, only there to provide security for them. It is a very difficult position for a military to be in, but our military did well in Iraq. And my daughter was personally thanked by Iraqi citizens for US presence there.

    Afghanistan is a far different animal than Iraq. While most, if not all, nations in the middle-east have wholly made-up borders, they still maintain a cohesiveness that Afghanistan has not achieved. And that is a huge problem. Personally, I seriously doubt we can be the first to make Afghanistan fully stable. The Taliban did not make Afghanistan fully stable. But they did make people bury their TVs and radios until the Taliban was thrown out.

    There are a great many people in Afghanistan who are indeed thankful the US and its allies threw the Taliban out. I can think of women with college degrees for an obvious example. Or anyone who buried their TVs and radios. While that may not be a majority or even a plurality, that is still a strong base. And proper diplomacy along with a military presence (for the time-being) will allow the idea of freedom to fester and will allow more Afghanis to swing away from a moderate distrust of US. We will never get extreme distrusts to sway to trust. And we will likely never be able to unify all the factions into a “real” country. But, given the proper diplomacy (and the current executive branch isn’t it), we can get the aid of the Afghanis to rid Afghanistan of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

    This comment is already too long. I’ll cut off mid-stream and plan on commenting again.

    Again, it would help if you had your website linked in your name. Since I’m no techno-geek, I think my site is linked to my name, but in case it isn’t, it’s

  2. Your article touches on all the reasons President Bush chose to pursue a war in a country with a history of relatively strong political and cultural traditions, albeit a checkered history. Iraq was liberated and a (hopefully) stable nation created because it was possible to do so there. As your article points out clearly and correctly, this is probably not possible in the ancient tribal land of Afghanistan. As a conservative Republican who is among the harshest critics of Obama’s domestic policies, I would not blame him if he chose to “cut and run” from Afghanistan. As bad as that would be, and as harmful as it might be to American prestige, etc. the alternative is worse. Sorry to say, but the U.S. simply can not afford the financial cost and the cost in the ongoing domestic stife engendered by waging these wars.

  3. I did some serious thinking on this. And I believe we can’t just pull out and leave Afghanistan as is. We run a risk of the Taliban once again coming to power. The Karzai govt, as bad as it is, would be isolated, it could pave a way to yet another civil war (on top of the war with Taliban). And that would not be good. It would embolden the Taliban and AQ. If we are to leave we can only do so after making a deal (one that includes Karzai) with the Taliban. Otherwise Afghanistan might once again become a haven for the Bin Laden’s of this world.

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